A simple and killer kettlebell workout

KB clean & press with one 'bell. Awesome exercise. (artofmanliness.com)
KB clean & press with one ‘bell. Awesome exercise. (artofmanliness.com)

I decided to take today off, exercise-wise, but yesterday (Friday, Jan. 17) I did a simple but brutally effective workout promoted by RKC (Russian Kettlebell Certified) instructor, blogger and author Pat Flynn. Flynn is, among online fitness folks, an interesting dude, in that he has a funny and rather strange writing voice in his blog that makes me think he’d be interesting to hang out and eat a steak with, if nothing else.

Flynn has developed something he calls the “Prometheus Protocol.” Let’s be real, he’s just marketing the plan with a name–and hey, more power to him. What matters to me is the brutal yet simple workout he describes here is remarkable in that it hits a huge number of major muscle groups, hits them hard, and if you do it right, you will feel the damned thing the next day (believe me, I do). I’m skeptical of a lot of what I read about fitness online–in part because the folks who set themselves up as gurus/teachers are always selling something–but I am not skeptical of the Prometheus Protocol’s effectiveness. As a workout to build real strength and some mass to boot, I’m certain it works.

Muscles worked by the KB squat, same as a "Zercher squat" with barbells. (frontsquat.com)
Muscles worked by the KB squat, same as a “Zercher squat” with barbells. (frontsquat.com)

Leaving aside what Flynn recommends about eating habits that should accompany use of the Prometheus Protocol (follow the link at the end of this post to read about it), here’s his workout, which I did between 3 and 4 p.m. yesterday afternoon, with a pair of 53 lb. (24 kg) kettlebells:

Double [Kettlebell] Clean and Press – 10 sets x 5 reps @ 60-80% of your 1 rep max
Double Kettlebell Front Squat – 10 sets of 5 reps @ 60-80% of your 1 rep max

That’s it. I warmed up various easy bodyweight exercises (again, I’m sold on the value of warming up before workouts, but don’t worry so much about cool-downs) before finishing with 20 burpees, done descending ladder-style. After I finished the core workout I did 12 pull-ups, also in a descending ladder (4, 3, 2, 2, 1). I’m not in any pain today, but I do have that distinctive muscle soreness that says, “dude, you did some shit yesterday.”

It’s worth noting that the volume of work takes enough of a toll on your muscles that it’d just be wise to eat a lot the day you do a workout like this, so again, if you read Flynn’s post, consider that he has a point about loading up on good carbs when you’re treading these waters.

[Chronicles of Strength]

Maybe Almost Daily Workout Post

I’ll try to keep this brief because sometimes these fitness posts are really just for me.

I took a day off from exercise yesterday because I’m just kind of used to not working out, running etc. on Wednesday. It just makes sense. Today I decided to see what I could fit in a half hour. Here’s what I did. I used a 70 lb. kettlebell, 25 lb. weighted vest (for the push-ups only) and two 25 lb dumbbells.

  • 5 sets x 10 reps of KB Swings
  • 5 x 10 push-ups
  • 5 x 10 burpees
  • 5 x 10 Arnold dumbbell presses

I did the above circuit style (1 set of swings then 1 set of push-ups and so on; repeat) and damned if it didn’t take exactly 30 minutes.

No idea how many calories it burned or anything.

Just telling you. Don’t try this at home.

Another dumb workout post, wherein I shout out Fitness Blender, Again

I’ve posted this workout on my Tumblr and given FitnessBlender.com–run by husband and wife Daniel and Kelli Segars–shout-outs there, too. There’s a reason: discovering the Segars’ thoughtfully made, carefully constructed workouts was crucial to getting me over a fitness hump.

I’d already lost a great deal of weight through running, diet, and some basic bodyweight workouts, but I think I was getting bored and needed to add variety. I also wanted to feel more fully fit, stronger in general. Somehow I became interested in kettlebells (wish I could remember what got me into them, but I can’t), and in researching the best workouts using those, I discovered this beginner kettlebell workout.

The straightforward and well-organized presentation had me hooked, and Fitness Blender videos became weekly components of my workouts, and remain so today. I’ve learned a ton from them, including proper form for stuff I already knew and a number of exercises I’d never even tried before. I also learned logical workout structure, which is pretty damned important if you want to make sure you’re doing a balanced routine.

I think one reason the Segars’ videos have become so popular (many of their workout videos have six-digit view numbers on Youtube) is because a huge number of people who run fitness websites and make such videos are coming from such an intensely aggressive, challenging, off-putting place, and Daniel and Kelli come across like trustworthy next door neighbors, people you’d invite over for a barbecue.

See, so many workout videos made by others are the same: heavy metal soundtracks blare while some bulked-out wannabe drill sergeant type whips out kettlebell snatches and then stares unblinking in the camera and bellowing about “PROTEIN” and “MASS” before flexing all the way down to their eyelids. Everything is BEAST MODE, all the time, and some of these Terminators even make it a point to note they’re doing this stuff drug (read: steroids)-free, when, funny enough, no one asked.

It’d be one thing if I was making fun of one such ‘guru,’ but the hilarious thing is I’m not. The majority of what you’ll encounter doing online research into fitness will resemble what I described. It could put someone who can’t afford (or like me, doesn’t really want) to join a gym off the whole thing. Fitness Blender works because the Segars(es?) know what they’re doing and seem adult enough and smart enough to lead you into new stuff without breaking your back or your spirit in the process.

I’m convinced that the last thing needed by many people who want to lose weight and get in shape is an approach that attempts to shame them. A terrible catch-22 of our society is just that–if you are very heavy, the moment you begin trying to make a change, you may become the butt of jokes and ridicule–even as you try. Even for trying. I don’t know why anyone in that position would want someone in their face aggressively challenging them for 30 minutes to an hour every other day. It ends up being motivation through resentment and anger–at the trainer and yourself–and I’m convinced that sort of motivation has a limited half-life.

(Steps carefully off soapbox, minding my form.)

Anyway–I did the workout in the video above today, but I had to make modifications, because I’m old (is my excuse). My changes are in parentheses. I used a single 45 lb. kettlebell for everything:

Brutal Kettlebell HIIT Cardio Tabata Workout

  • KB Halo
  • Mt Climbers
  • KB Snatch Right Arm
  • Squat Jacks (I hate these, but they’re great for your quads.)
  • KB Snatch Left Arm
  • Burpee (I admit it, I threw in a 1-minute break between this and the next set.)
  • KB Swing
  • Push Up (I did plenty of push-ups yesterday, so I took it easy with these and did two rounds of these with the easier style of push-up, done on knees instead of full-on plank.)
  • KB Goblet Squat
  • High Knees
  • KB Crush Curl (I just went ahead and did hammer curls with a pair of dumbbells, 25 lbs each.)
  • Jumping Lunges (These are really brutal, coming at this point in the workout. My thighs were burning.)

Fitness Blender estimates this workout may burn as many as 432 calories, and I believe it. In High Intensity Interval Training, intensity is the key word. Some people recommend you don’t do more than 3-4 HIIT workouts in a week, and I can say from experience that even 4 will mess with you, so tread lightly.

[Fitness Blender]

Another dumb, non-daily workout post

I don’t know how I went from 4 years ago being a guy who thought about exercising then shook my head at the foolishness of the idea (a mindset that can keep a lot of seriously overweight people from even starting, I’d bet) to being that guy who gets anxious if I skip more than a day, but that’s where I am now. This weekend I did nothing and this morning I realized the inactivity was driving me crazy. So here’s the (first? I’m considering a two workout day today) effective and simple nonsense I did this morning, between taking my wife to work and getting my youngest kid on the bus:

  • 50 burpees, ladder style (10, rest, 9, rest, etc. down to 1).
  • 50 push-ups in one set of 20 then two sets of 15. You can throw a push-up into a burpee and I considered that but I think the push-ups are more effective done as a separate exercise.
  • 15 pull-ups, done in a modified ladder–4, 3, 2, 2, 2, 1.
  • 20 burpees–wearing a 25 lb. weighted vest. Also ladder style–5, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

In the future I’ll speed it up and add reps and planks. This took 34 minutes but I bet I could finish it in less than 30. I might have done mile runs instead of burpees but situational and time constraints wouldn’t permit (another point in favor of the burpee–it can be a time-saver).

I may have mentioned this before but it bears repeating: if you’re going to do burpees (and again, this is just my workout, and is not intended as instruction in any way) with a weighted vest, make sure your vest has a comfortable snug fit and is relatively short in front. I made the mistake of buying a full-fitting vest (it looks like a flak jacket) and it’s great for push-ups, torso dips and runs, but the motions used in a burpee make it bunch and flap a little, which is pretty annoying.

 

Workouts! Eh, I don’t know. (Wherein the author digresses about the burpee.)

The goddamned burpee. (Photo by: 100lbslater.blogspot.com)
The goddamned burpee. (Photo by: 100lbslater.blogspot.com, via)

Yeah, I have to accept I can’t commit to writing about working out all the time. Two main reasons: my workouts are often variations on a theme, therefore kinda-sorta same/same; I find other things more interesting. I definitely find a wide variety of fitness-related subjects fascinating, so I think the tack I’ll take when blogging about fitness will be more along the lines of covering whatever’s interesting to me at the time (strongman stuff, kettlebell lore, whatever).

That said, here’s what I did recently:

January 7

  • 50 burpees, ladder style (10 reps, 9, 8, etc…)
  • 5 sets of 5 reps of kettlebell cleans & jerks with two 53 lb bells (5 x 5)
  • 5 x 5 kettlebell squats, same weights
  • 4 x 8 reps of plain old curls with two 25 lb dumbbells, then 1 set of six reps.

I threw in three 1-minute planks. It felt like a pretty good workout.

January 9 (today)

Wearing a 25 lb weighted vest, I followed the following pattern:

  • 4 x 5 burpees–burpees in a weighted vest are something else, hence the low number of reps. I recommend them, but you need a good, close-fitting vest. Mine’s not great.
  • 5 x 10 kettlebell swings, with a 70 lb bell.
  • Burpees. Again. Same as above.
  • 4 x 5 reps of torso dips. Add a weighted vest and these are bastards.
  • 5 x 10 reps of “Arnolds” dumbbell presses with two 25 lb dumbbells.

I took off the vest and did two sets of 10 burpees, two sets of 10 dips, the rest of the workout the same as above. What’s funny is looking at it now, it’s a good, tiring workout, but at the time I felt like I could do more.

The couple behind my favorite online fitness resource often mentions feedback from people who like their videos about hating burpees. Anyone who’s ever done a few understands that, but at the same time, I can’t help but feel they’re a genius move in the world of bodyweight exercises. A burpee hits almost everything. And damned if you don’t feel like you have seriously done something when you’ve finished a set.

Then there’s the fact that they’re easily one of the most portable exercises imaginable, which is why if you read up on prison fitness (a weirdly fascinating subject I may cover in a future fitness post) you always read about burpees. I love running for my cardio, but since I’ve been living in a wintry climate and discovered that it’s just kind of a dumb idea to run in the ice and snow sometimes (though I still occasionally do it), burpees have been a lifesaver. Once I began incorporating the damned things into workouts, I found I could go 10 days between runs and then out of the blue do 4 miles at a fairly reasonable pace. Granted, my fairly reasonable pace as a runner is other runners’ fast walk, but still–I’m talking about endurance, here.

As miserable as they make me, I’m a fan of the burpee, and will include them in workouts as long as I’m able to do one.

While the usual disclaimers about my workouts merely being a record of what I’ve done apply, I will say, in closing, that you should learn to do a goddamned burpee. For your health.

Daily Workout Post (almost kind of daily!)

Tonight I’ve edged back toward making daily workouts daily again! Yay, the cold, hard universe smiles upon my puny efforts at delaying the grave! Anyway, yesterday’s workout was pretty thorough, so I thought I might lay off today. But around mid-afternoon I found myself doing pull-ups. Only 10 total, in a 4-3-2-1 descending ladder. I’ve felt bad in the past about the fact I never do more than 5 reps of pull-ups in a set, but then I looked in the mirror and remembered I’m a damned 195 pound man closer to 50 than 40 and I can divide my sets and reps however the hell I want. Tonight, I did a brief burpee workout, also sort of ladder-style–push-up burpees in 15-14-11-10 descending ladder, for a total of 50. As an aside, I also discovered the etymology of the word burpee, (a word redolent of certain body functions to the juvenile-minded like me) and it turns out every con’s favorite prison cell workout is named after some guy! Quoth the Oxford Dictionary: “[burpees are] named after Royal H. Burpee, American psychologist. The original usage was Burpee test, in which a series of burpees are executed in rapid succession, designed to measure agility and coordination.” See? They’re not named after what you do after 50 of the damned things jostle your innards enough to, uh, let off steam, as it were.

Daily Workout Post (that’s still not daily)

Since the first one went on a bit, let’s make today’s dumb workout post brief. I don’t pretend there’s any coherence to this one other than I’ve been in a day on/day off pattern and even though that’s 4 days a week, it feels like slacking, so I needed a whole body workout.

Part the First, in which our hero* addresses cardio, chest and arms:

  • Burpees x 5
  • Push-ups x 15
  • Burpees x 5
  • Arnolds” with 2 25-lb dumbbells, x 10. (Link goes to a video demonstration of “Arnolds,” which are, believe it or not, not named after that football-headed cartoon character, but the former governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.)

I did four of each set in a circuit, for a total 40 burpees, 60 push-ups and 40 Arnolds. Or Ah-nulds, if you prefer the old hacky nod to the gov’s Austrian brogue.

Part the Second, in which our hero** addresses the need for an all-over body burn:

I did the workout above, as demonstrated by one of my favorite online fitness folks, Daniel, who runs the awesome FitnessBlender.com with his lovely wife, Kelli. In the interest of full disclosure, I used a single 53-lb kettlebell (I’ve switched between the 53 and a 70 before) and added a minute’s pause at the middle of the tape, figuring I began the thing already pretty sweaty and tired. I love this FitnessBlender workout in particular because it’s a time-saver and it hits all the good stuff.

Parts 1 and 2 together timed out to 30 minutes.

Plug I give every time I mention them–I can’t recommend Fitness Blender strongly enough if you, like me, have personal and budgetary constraints that make you wary of the gym. I prefer to run 2-5 times a week if I can but winter in New England can make that a tough sell–a resource like the one provided by these guys is invaluable in that situation, as well.

The usual disclaimer: I’m essentially using blog posts like this as notes for an ongoing project. This isn’t meant to be instructional and before you try any of it, you should eat a candy bar and think about your life and know that I’m just some Internet idiot, and I like to eat donut holes and drink scotch in addition to working out. I won’t claim to tell you what to do fitness-wise but I can totally instruct you on those things. (Hey, this whole blog warns you about the “unreliable narrator” part of this deal, sparky.)

For real education on these kinds of things, you should park yourself at FitnessBlender.com for a day and absorb their videos and plans like they’re your Jedis of gym stuff.

[Fitness Blender]

*Village idiot

**Middle-aged dipstick desperately fleeing the Reaper’s scythe